As part of their deal with MGM/FOX, Shout! Factory has licensed a multitude of classic cult films and television shows from the company and has produced a variety of excellent DVD and Blu-ray releases over the past year. Upper most on the wish lists of genre fans are the MGM owned products originally released by American International Pictures (AIP) and some forthcoming titles on Blu-ray include the highly anticipated Vincent Price Blu-Ray Collection, the 1965 Boris Karloff cult classic, DIE, MONSTER DIE! (due in March 2014) and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR COLLECTION. In addition to these Blu-ray releases, Shout! has sub-licensed through a company called Timeless Media a number of MGM/Fox owned titles into DVD packages of four films in one collection for an incredibly low $5.99 price.
Unfortunately, these “Movies 4 You” collections have been decidedly mixed in terms of quality and extras. Two such recent releases are the MGM SCI-FI CLASSICS and MORE MGM SCI-FI CLASSICS. In addition to releasing several titles previously released through MGM as part of their late Midnite Movies collection (THE MAN FROM PLANET X, THE ANGRY RED PLANET and REPTILICUS), these collections feature the official DVD debuts of several AIP and United Artists releases including THE TIME TRAVELERS, BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER and THE NEANDERTHAL MAN as well as official releases of THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE and THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN as both are owned by MGM/FOX and their previous DVD releases were from other companies using prints and not the original negatives. As much as this reviewer hates being the bearer of bad news, there are many flaws with these two presentations which is so much of a shame as this was a wasted opportunity to get these films out with the proper treatment and respect they deserve.
As many of these titles have already been reviewed extensively on this website when they were released by MGM or other companies, the plots will not be revisited in this review. Instead, this review will focus on the titles’ latest incarnations via Timeless Media.
As far as THE MAN FROM PLANET X and THE ANGRY RED PLANET are concerned, these two titles have been encoded for this release in extremely dark transfers to the point where night scenes (such as the rescue of Nora Hayden in the desert in THE ANGRY RED PLANET and all the night scenes in THE MAN FROM PLANET X) are virtually unwatchable. The Midnite Movies releases of these titles in 2001 are actually better lit in the darker scenes. As far as aspect ratio goes, THE MAN FROM PLANET X is in 1.33:1 which is correct as this was made in 1951, two years before the first widescreen film (Fox’s THE ROBE) was released. THE ANGRY RED PLANET is in 1.33:1 as well and that is a bit confusing since the original 2001 cover says that 1.33:1 is its “theatrical release format.” However, there appears to be a great deal of headroom in some scenes and not as much in others (especially in close-ups of Gerald Mohr and Les Tremayne) early in the film’s flashback. The 1959 film would have been shot a good six years into the various widescreen formats of the time so it may have been shot 1.33:1 and projected at 1.66:1 (please note film purists that this is only this reviewer’s guess!!!)
REPTILICUS is only one of two films in this collection which has undergone a re-mastering job and overall it is an improvement over the 2001 disc which had a significant amount of grain. The colors on this new release are a bit bolder and the picture as well is somewhat sharper. Fans must remember however that these films were originally shot on shoestring budgets so the photography and color processing was not of the caliber of multi-million dollar Hollywood productions of the time so we are probably seeing REPTILICUS at the best it will ever look. With regard to aspect ratio, this release and the 2001 DVD are in 1.33:1. However, there is not much headroom at all and the DVD release in Denmark of the Danish language version is also in 1.33:1 leading to speculate that it too was shot 1.33:1 and may have been projected at 1.66:1 (again another guess). A significant flaw on this film comes in the form of a blurry distortion in the picture in the transition scene from the aquarium to the command center about a half-hour into the film. This was not evident on the 2001 release.
The biggest aspect ratio question in this collection comes with regard to THE NEANDERTHAL MAN which was shot in 1953 (the same year THE ROBE was released in widescreen), but at a time when not every theater was equipped to show the widescreen format because the process was so new. On this collection, the film was re-mastered in 1.85:1 high definition, but it seems to have been shot in 1.33:1. THE NEANDERTHAL MAN is going to be released in the near future by Shout!/Scream Factory as a high definition Blu-ray with THE BEAST FROM HOLLOW MOUNTAIN. It will be interesting to see if they put out a 1.33:1 version of THE NEANDERTHAL MAN as Olive Films did with the classic Alan Ladd western SHANE. Apparently that film was shot 1.33:1 by George Stevens with the intent to project it in that ratio, but it was projected at 1.66:1 matting out some portions of the frame much to the chagrin of the director.
THE TIME TRAVELERS looks fairly good, but does not seem to be re-mastered for this release. The colors are fairly bold, but the picture does not have a great deal of sharpness to it. The same holds true for BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER and THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN (both are in black and white), but sharpness appears to be lacking and this unfortunately is probably due to compression problems. There are simply too many movies crammed onto a tiny DVD space and it shows in scenes like when the mutants are chasing the heroes up the mountain in THE TIME TRAVELERS. When the camera moves, there is a blurry effect which seems to indicate compression issues. The same holds true for BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER and THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN. As far as aspect ratios go, all three films seem to be in the correct 1.66:1 ratio with a small amount of black bars on the left and right of the picture.
Finally, THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE which was already released in a special edition DVD from Don May at Synapse Films in 2001, makes its “official” appearance here (from the original MGM/Fox owned negative). Overall, the picture is free of major blemishes and scratches, but again suffers from some of the distorting which comes from poor compression. This version is also missing dialog (during the opening operation scene) that is present in the Synapse version, and there is also some disagreement about the aspect ratio. Some fan sites used screen grabs to illustrate the fact that more of the frame image is visible in the Synapse version as opposed to the Timeless Media version. The one revelation on this release is the appearance of a scene from the European version which features a silent alternate scene of Adele Lamont posing for photographers in the nude. In the American theatrical version, she is wearing a bikini.
Other than the aforementioned extra in THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE, there are no extras on these discs other than photo galleries. It is truly a shame that Timeless did not either use two discs for each release with two films on each disc or use double sided discs with two movies on each side. Even though digital technology has improved since these films were first released in 2000, 2001 and 2002, companies simply cannot squeeze that many films on one sided DVD space and expect to have any real quality even for the low $5.99 price. Since these are official releases of MGM/Fox products, they should not be treated like the multi film public domain collections from fly-by-night companies haunting the bargain bins for years. The next Movies 4 You offering will be a war films collection coming in September featuring three AIP titles and GO FOR BROKE (an MGM film from 1951). However, these titles are also expected to have four films squeezed onto a single, one-sided DVD so compression is bound to be an issue for them as well. Hopefully, Timeless/Shout! will hear the fans’ complaints and rectify this practice in the future. (Joe Cascio)
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